A conditional use permit request to excavate a gravel bar on the Meramec River drew strong opposition during a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Lyn Havin Schulte, president of Havin Material Service, applied for the permit to allow her company to extract and excavate sand and gravel from an 11-acre gravel bar along the Meramec River.
The proposed site on the river runs along a 137-acre piece of property located off Sullivan Bottom Road about 1.1 miles northwest of Project Road, which is south of St. Clair.
Schulte told the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday that if the CUP is approved, she plans to purchase the property.
Residents living near the proposed site had turned in a petition containing about 70 signatures to the planning board, and many of those who signed the petition attended Tuesday’s hearing to voice their objections to the CUP. More than 20 people spoke out, saying they thought the operation would destroy nearby roads, cause traffic hazards, inundate the area with noise and air pollution and even threaten the habitat of endangered mussels living in the Meramec River.
Schulte told the board her operation would run two or three dump trucks, hauling between 15 to 16 tons of material from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The proposed route would run from Sullivan Bottom Road to Project Road to Highway 47 to Highway 30.
Traffic and Road Concerns
Vicki Ruck, who lives on Project Road, said in the summer many people use the nearby Red Horse Creek river access area, including many inexperienced teenage drivers.
“There’s a lot of newly licensed drivers that go there,” she said. “There’s a lot of traffic on the roads.”
Ruck also pointed out there are blind curves and steep hills along the route and said she fears for driver safety.
Larry Walker, who lives on Sullivan Bottom Road, told the board he is in support of private business, but fears the road is too steep and narrow for commercial vehicles.
Walker showed the board a picture of the road to make his point.
“That’s my vehicle in the middle of the road,” he said. “You can see the banks are steep on both sides the entire length of Sullivan Bottom Road, and it is ill-maintained. It does not have a culvert drainage system and it’s steep the full half-mile to the top. The road is narrow in several places, so you could imagine, if you were to meet a dump truck you’re going to have to back up several hundred yards to try to get off the road.”
Steve Hoff, who lives on Rye Creek Road, said he is concerned about a rise in the road on Highway 47 just before the intersection of Project Road.
“They come over that hill and they’re right on top of that slow-moving truck so fast,” he said. “I feel like there would be accidents there.”
Schulte said her company would work with the county to try to make improvements to the roads along the route and even offered to help with the cost, if her company could afford it.
“We understand you might have reservations because of the road and us hauling,” Schulte said. “Sullivan Bottom Road does have drainage issues, but we would be taking care of it daily. If there’s a bad spot, we’ll fix it.”
Too Much Noise
Residents also were concerned about the noise the operation would generate with the excavation and the truck traffic.
Jeannette Dowling, who lives on Rye Creek Road with her husband Joe, said they couldn’t open their windows last summer because of noisy truck traffic on their road.
“We were shocked to find out the enormous, tandem truck traffic that went by our house last summer,” she said. “Before the road got paved, we couldn’t keep our windows open because of the dust. Now we can’t keep our windows open because of the traffic.”
The Dowlings said they feared if Havin were allowed to excavate, the people along Project and Sullivan Bottom roads would experience the same noise.
Matthew Light, who lives on Sullivan Bottom Road, said he works nights and sleeps during the day and doesn’t think he should have to put up with noisy trucks on his dead-end road.
“My bedroom window is 50 feet from that road,” he said. “What am I going to do? I’m going to sit there and listen to a truck grind up that hill? I left town because of this stuff. I move out here and there it comes.”
Another resident on Sullivan Bottom Road, Teresa Baumruk, said she thinks the dust and diesel emissions will aggravate her allergies and endanger the health of her children.
“The amount of dust that this is going to draw up is detrimental to our health,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to open my windows because of the dust. Dust is known to cause asthma and other respiratory issues. If you lived on this road and had kids, would you want them outside playing with trucks coming up and down the road every 30 minutes whipping up that kind of dust?”
Also speaking in opposition were an environmental attorney and an area biologist, who said that excavating the site could threaten the well-being of five species of endangered mussels who make their home in parts of the Meramec River.
A Last-Ditch Effort
Schulte said she wouldn’t have requested the CUP, but her company is in dire need of aggregate material. She explained that drought conditions have stopped sand and gravel from washing down the river to property where Havin’s current dredging operation exists.
“We have been dredging in the Meramec River since 1971,” she said, “and this is the first time in 41 years that Mother Nature has not brought sand and gravel down to our dredging operation. Therefore, this causes a huge problem for us.”
Schulte added that if drought conditions cease, so would the need for the excavation.
“I would also like to stress if Mother Nature should wash material down to our dredging operation, we would not be on this piece of property at all,” she said. “It is much more cost effective for us to be able to dredge it, than to come in here and haul it. So we could be in here a month, two months or two years. It’s going to depend on Mother Nature. This is a last-ditch effort for us to be able to get the material because it’s so costly for us.”
Benefits to the County
Schulte told the planning board that the materials from this property would supply many ready mix concrete facilities in the Franklin County area, which in turn would be used throughout the county to build everything from sidewalks, residential basements and flat work to bridges and pavement projects. The operation would also be used to supply pea-gravel to the state, county and city for projects such as road repair and local landfills for filtering systems.
Schulte said the operation also would create about five or six new jobs in the county, as workers would be needed to operate the site and haul the material.
She also claims the operation would be good for adjoining land owners because shaving off the gravel bar would keep flood waters from eroding the banks on the opposite side.
“If you look down river from the property where we (currently) dredge, you can see the water is deeper and cleaner and not eating into either property’s bank,” she said. “The people who use the river for recreation and the landowners love us because we have proven to them that we are not out to destroy their property whatsoever.”
The planning and zoning board, hearing objections to the CUP, voted unanimously to send the matter before its review committee, which is comprised of three board members.
The review committee will look at the testimonies and other evidence and make its recommendation for approval or denial to the planning board. A review committee meeting is scheduled for March 8.
Additional testimony could be added before that meeting, but the planning officials said it must be submitted to the planning and zoning office by 4:30 p.m. March 4.
Board chairman Bill Evans said the March 8 meeting is open to the public, but no one would be allowed to speak publicly